The different girders, columns, beams, and other steel components that make up so many buildings around us aren’t something you can just pick up from a warehouse. Instead, each piece needs to be carefully configured and constructed from raw steel materials to find the dimensions that you need. This requires painstaking attention to detail and top expertise, as a single flaw could jeopardize the whole process. This creation of different steel components for assembly, later on, is called steel fabrication. Every single business in the steel industry either has a fabrication arm or works with a contractor to do so. This means even steel-adjacent businesses should be sure to read this guide on the industry and what it entails.
What Is Steel Fabrication Work?
As mentioned before, steel fabrication is the process of transforming raw steel into a product/item that gets used in a construction product. Because of steel’s nature as an alloy of iron and other metals, there is a wide variety of different steels out there. Fabrication is taking those metals and creating a shape that you need by the process of manipulation. There are quite a few raw materials that play a role in the fabrication, so let’s go over them briefly.
Plate metal: This is generally used to shape different pieces of steel, expanding the range of what can be done.
Castings: These may be used when an aesthetic component is necessary.
Expanded metals: These have a grate-like structure that allows moisture to better flow off of the metal
Sectional metal: These include Z-shapes and L-beams.
Fittings: These are necessary components for completing final pieces.
Welding wire: Fabrication requires different components to be welded together (more on that later), and wire at various thicknesses are required for this process.
The truth is that just about any structure that requires steel needs fabrication in some capacity. However, in construction, this is mainly used to create steel components for buildings, or steel to be used for reinforced concrete.
The Fabrication Process
We’ve established what steel fabrication is, but how exactly does it happen? There are a few critical stages we can mention. First is ideation, and this is largely at the behest of the fabricator’s client. If you work with a custom steel fabricator, they can create unique pieces for your project. This may range from beams of an unconventional size to striking aesthetic pieces like railings. As the ideation goes on, the fabricator will then create blueprints using specialized software for this purpose. You may be able to supply your own blueprints as well if you wish.
To complete this part of the process, the fabricator then converts the blueprints into shop drawings. Shop drawings are made in accordance with the client’s desired budget and deadlines, and will generally be reviewed by all parties. These are the plans the fabricator uses to take those initial blueprints into a tangible component.
Fabricators use a number of unique processes in order to manipulate steel into various forms. Let’s take a closer look at some of these processes:
Shot blasting: Some of these steps are done prior to any actual fabrication work to make sure the steel is in the best condition possible. Shot blasting falls into this category. Here, the different sections are blasted with small steel beads to remove impurities. Creating this clean finish makes welding easier, as well as painting. Construction is one of the areas where this is most important.
Cutting: In this case, steel sections are cut up prior to fabrication either to fit a custom job or just to make it easier to work with. You can see a lot of different steel cutting methods, including plasma cutting, flame-cutting, high-pressure water cutting, or simply using a circular saw.
Machining: Machining uses a specific piece of equipment to shave away parts of the steel to create a certain shape. Mills, drills, and lathes are some of the most common examples.
Bending: In order to match the needs of modern installations/architects, fabricators have learned to manipulate steel into complex, intricate shapes. Bending is generally a major part of this. There are a few practices to bend steel, including running it through a roll bender or using press braking.
Welding: Welding expertise is one of the most important traits of a steel fabricator. This entails utilizing high heat to melt a material with whatever it’s being attached to. When the materials in the weld pool solidify, you have two materials fused into one.
Coating: This process is generally done at the end of fabrication, and has a practical and aesthetic component. For example, galvanization involves coating the steel with zinc to lower corrosion. At the same time, the client may request certain custom colors. Both of these fall under the coating category.
When the manipulation is done, the final components will be reviewed to make sure they follow the specifications of the shop drawing. If this goes through, they can be transported to the job site to erect the structure.
A steel fabrication company needs to utilize a lot of specific tools in order to get the job done. Obviously, there are physical tools used to cut, shape, and manipulate steel. However, there are digital tools as well. The obvious example here is the design software steel fabrication professionals use to create the drawings they base their work off of, but project management software can’t be neglected here either.
Options like eSub are the foremost choice for a custom steel fabrication business, but why? For one, our cloud storage makes it easy for anyone to have the essential drawings and information they need from any setting. In addition, we help keep track of employee hours and equipment usage to ensure that the actual fabrication process is going according to plan. Our financial data also helps determine how to calculate steel fabrication costs, helping you make more accurate bids.